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Claims swirl around woman’s flight from Newton facility

NEWTON — About 3 p.m. Wednesday, the phone rang in the detective bureau at the Newton Police Department.

On the line was Beth Birnbaum, 62, the Newton woman who had gone missing from a long-term-care facility in that city the day before, and the friend who accompanied her, a police report said.

The pair wouldn’t say where they were, but the friend, David Collignon, wanted to know why a warrant had been issued for his arrest after Birnbaum left the CareOne at Newton facility.

“David stated. . . all he was doing was taking care of Beth and getting her out of the [CareOne] facility,” said the report, filed in Newton District Court. “Both stated that the care Beth was receiving at [CareOne] was terrible and she has been trying to get out of there.”

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On Friday, Collignon, 55, was back in Newton, being arraigned in court, shaking his head inside the prisoner’s dock, on a charge of permitting abuse of an elderly or disabled person.

Meanwhile, Birnbaum was at Massachusetts General Hospital, after she was driven to Florida and back following her departure from Newton with Collignon Tuesday afternoon, according to Collignon’s brother and defense attorney. Birnbaum and Collignon reached Collignon’s home in Middleburg, Fla. Wednesday, but were ordered to leave by his estranged wife, the police report said.

Judge Mary Beth Heffernan released Collignon on his own recognizance, but ordered him to stay away from Birnbaum, her Newton home, and any facility where she may be treated. He walked out of court with his brother, Ross, and attorney Michael Chinman.

The prosecutor, Christine Maltby, did not disclose a motive for Collignon’s actions. She described the case as complicated and said investigators needed to speak with Birnbaum about who holds power of attorney for her and who acts as her health care proxy.

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Chinman said the case should be dropped, saying Collignon was trying to help his former girlfriend and friend of 36 years leave a medical facility that she said was giving substandard care.

“If you’re in that situation and you’re receiving medication you don’t want, you’re in a place you don’t like, you have a feeding tube you don’t need, [and] if you speak to a trusted friend and ask that friend for help . . . I think any of us would want that friend to act, and that’s exactly what David Collignon did,” Chinman said outside court.

Birnbaum suffered a stroke in January, leaving her with diminished mental capacity, the police report said. Since then, Birnbaum’s health care proxy, Crystal Carvotta-Brown, who lives in Atlanta, has made decisions about her care, the report said. Birnbaum met Carvotta-Brown through a cat adoption process, according to Ross Collignon.

After Birnbaum disappeared, workers at CareOne at Newton told investigators that Birnbaum was still considered incompetent and that Carvotta-Brown left instructions that she not leave the facility with Collignon, the report said.

The workers and Carvotta-Brown also said that Collignon had interfered with Birnbaum’s care, and they expressed concern that he may try to exploit her financially.

Birnbaum’s brother, Jeffrey, told police he estimated her estate is worth $2.5 million. He said he has power of attorney for his sister, but received notarized documents last month that gave Collignon power of attorney and named him health care proxy and executor of her estate and trust, the report said.

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Jeffrey Birnbaum, who lives in New York City, said he did not believe the new documents were valid since his sister has not been competent since her stroke, the report said.

Collignon’s brother and lawyer denied that Collignon was motivated by money and said Birnbaum does not want him to be prosecuted. They asserted that MGH staff who examined Birnbaum Thursday found her capable of making decisions about her medical care. Collignon has not been charged with a financial crime.

“Her rights, her wishes, her desires are not being listened to,” said Chinman, who described Carvotta-Brown as a “virtual stranger” to Birnbaum.

An MGH spokeswoman said Friday afternoon that she had no information about Birnbaum.

Collignon, who is scheduled to return to court June 14, declined to comment. Carvotta-Brown, Jeffrey Birnbaum, and a spokesman for CareOne at Newton did not respond Friday to requests for comment.

Ross Collignon, a Winthrop resident, said he left Birnbaum’s side at MGH to attend his brother’s arraignment. He said Birnbaum would be upset that Heffernan barred Collignon from contacting her.

“She’s going to crumble,” he said. “She’s going to be devastated.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.